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Headphones vs Earbuds | How Are They Different and Which Is Better for You?

If you’re an avid music fan, or if you really ever want to listen to something when you’re in public or are around someone else, you know that you need something to make your listening experience more private. The two major market options are headphones and earbuds. They provide different experiences, however, and understanding these experiences will help you make the right selection. 


We’ve all seen both headphones and earbuds before, and it’s very easy to tell them apart “in the wild,” so to say. Headphones go over the ears and typically rest over the top of the head. Earbuds are instead small speakers, typically connected to wires but increasingly become more and more Bluetooth oriented, are placed into the ear.

Headphones are considered more aesthetic, and due to their nature of going around the ear, interact with your anatomy more naturally, which can in some cases make a better sound, if your headphones are nice. However, they’re clunky. You won’t see most people running in them. 

what is the difference

That’s where earbuds come in. They go directly in your ears, meaning you have tons of range to move your head around without anything interfering with them. They are small speakers that you place directly into your ears, which can sometimes cause a decrease in true audio quality. They are lightweight and portable, and can come with additions such as microphones and small remote controls. 

Earbuds are also often used when you need less interference, such as if you are gaming. If you are interested in a better and more powerful sound, check out our PC gaming headset reviews. In any case, consider your needs and what you prioritize in your gameplay or viewing experience.


The major identifiable difference is the design of headphones compared to earbuds. As stated, headphones go over the ear and over the head. They come in two forms -- supra-aural or circumaural.

Supra-aural headphones cover your entire ear surfaces but don’t necessarily seal them in. Think about the cheaper headphones you may have used in computer class growing up. Circumaural headphones, on the other hand, wrap around your ear entirely and close off the ear. The best visual is that one goes on top of the ear and the other goes around. 

Headphones can be wire or Bluetooth, however more recently we are seeing the rise of the Bluetooth headphone. These are gaining popularity in both the workout world and music world because of the freedom of motion you can have. 

Earbuds can also have attachments that go around the ear, but these provide extra security for the part of the earbud that goes in the ear, rather than for the sound quality. The major differences in earbuds come down to their tips and their wires. When it comes to tips, the major difference is whether they’re ergonomically shaped or they have rubber tips. The difference in wires can be more varied. 

Wires can have different microphones and controllers, but some earbuds don’t have wires at all. These range from the infamous AirPod to the more inconspicuous single wires that wrap around the back of the head. 

Sound Quality

The sound quality is important to take into account when you’re considering if you want headphones or earbuds. Headphones, typically, are a far more dynamic listening experience, because they work with your ear to optimize sounds, and can provide great audio quality. 

Because headphones do not go into the ear canal, they work with the rest of your ear to produce a sound that is more accurate to its original form. The waves are able to reverberate within your ear, which leads to fuller sound quality. You can, with some types of music, experience different sounds in the tune than you would earbuds. 

While earbuds can have high-quality speakers, they simply do not interact with the ear in the same way. They are great for portability, but intense music enthusiasts tend to lean toward headphones when making their listening selections. 

Noise Cancellation

If you have ever been on a noisy public transit system, you know that noise-cancelling headphones or earbuds can be very useful. Noise cancellation uses your headphone or earbud’s microphone to reverse the phase of sound waves, meaning that they become cancelled out. 

Noise cancellation works best with ambient background noise that is not sudden or too loud and can really separate you from the noise. Both headphones and earbuds are capable of this if they have a microphone system and noise cancellation technology. 

Noise isolation is the physical act of blocking out sounds, which is different but still can provide a quieter listening experience. Most headphones or earbuds are noise isolating because they block the sounds from having full access to the ear inherently, however, some are shaped to become more noise isolating.

Headphones on a desk

Comfort and Portability

When it comes to comfort, much of the choice between headphones and earbuds comes down to personal taste. Great earbuds will be ergonomically fitted, or made of rubber that forms itself to fit your ear. Uncomfortable headphones will put pressure on your head, so prioritizing proper sizing will help you with comfort. 

When it comes to portability, earbuds are king because they are so much smaller than headphones. However, headphones are becoming more and more manageable as creative designers find ways to streamline their builds. In the past, earphones could be fitted with complicated dials or wires that could catch or hook. Nowadays, we are finding fewer and fewer additions, making the entire product more portable and sleek. 

If you need to travel with earbuds or headphones often, earbuds may be your better bet because they are so small. As time goes on, headphones are becoming more manageable. However, at this moment earbuds are superior in this regar

Wireless vs true wireless headphones: what’s the difference? 

Wireless devices typically mean that the headphones in question run on Bluetooth technology. This moniker really stuck around even though headphones are developing more and more ways to become truly wireless, which is where the “true wireless” name comes from. 

Wireless headphones are typically connected by a wire in some way, especially when it comes to earbud-style headphones. Regardless of the name, the connection between the earbuds is still a wire, although they do not connect to a device. 

True wireless headphones or earbuds are separate from each other, such as AirPods. Previously, true wireless headphones had lower sound quality and lower noise cancellation capabilities. However, in recent years this has changed due to technological advances. To catch up, read our wired vs wireless gaming headset article.

why earbuds

Do wireless headphones sound better than true wireless earbuds? 

Back in the day, true wireless earbuds used to have fickle sound quality that did not quite stack up to expectations. Nowadays, however, due primarily to the drivers within the earbuds, there is almost no difference in sound quality between wireless and true wireless earbuds. 

Should I buy wireless or true wireless headphones for noise cancellation? 

There are more versions of wireless headphones with good noise cancellation than there are true wireless headphones with great cancellation. However, that does not mean you should not consider some of the great true wireless options. 

Several great true wireless headphones have been equipped with noise cancellation technology through microphones for sensing noises embedded in their base. This cancellation technology is small, but usually very thorough if you buy a quality brand. 

The problem with any wireless headphones, true or otherwise, when it comes to noise cancellation is that they do not have long battery lives. They burn up energy relatively quickly, and must be regularly recharged. If you are consistent with plugging your headphones into a charger, your true wireless headphones with noise cancellation technology should serve you well. If not, you may find yourself regularly aggravated. 

Are wireless or true wireless headphones best for working out? 

Choosing between wireless or true wireless headphones for working out is another choice that is based on personal taste. Great wireless headphones, like EKSA E910 , will definitely make it easier to work out for longer, but you don’t want a cord to get in the way and you don’t want them to die before you finish your entire workout. 

If you have short hair or are worried about losing a bud in movement, then a set of wireless headphones may be great for staying out of your way and in your ear. If you are worried about your hair tangling with a wire while you work out, wireless headphones may present another difficulty to your workout. 

man working out

Regardless of whether you choose wireless or true wireless, your headphones will have to have Bluetooth capacity to stay out of your way, as a cord can become very annoying and detrimental to your workout overall. Headphones are typically not a good tool for working out, because sometimes they won’t stay in place. Certain builds of headphones can also increase how much you sweat, which may cause dehydration during your workout. 

Pros and Cons of Earbuds

Earbuds can be great tools that really improve your listening experience, especially when it comes to convenience. Here are some pros and cons to consider when choosing between earbuds and headphones:


  • Convenient to carry and transport
  • Fit in the ear so they are more out of the way than standard headphones
  • Often come with a built-in microphone and remote
  • Noise cancellation technology is in the focus
  • Provide noise isolation due to blocking the ear canal
  • Convenient to use
  • Discrete in public places


  • Can reduce sound quality compared to headphones
  • More easily damaged
  • Can become lost easily, especially if they are true wireless

Pros and Cons of Headphones

Headphones are great for people who truly enjoy listening to something at its full potential. They are convenient and can provide a great listening experience. Here are some pros and cons for headphones. 


  • Impeccable sound quality
  • Aesthetically pleasing
  • Come with different levels of padding for comfort
  • Can be Bluetooth or wired
  • Attach securely to head
  • Can be both noise isolating and noise cancelling based on the technology within the headphone


  • Can be more difficult to transport
  • Harder to workout in or travel in due to large exterior
  • Cannot be truly wireless because of the connections
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